More Lung Cancer in Women Non-Smokers Than Men, But Most Lung Cancer Still in Smokers Interview with:
David A. Siegel, MD, MPH
Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Georgia Why is it important to better understand the smoking histories (both current/former and never smokers) among lung cancer patients?

Response: Knowledge of smoking status of patients diagnosed with lung cancer can help us understand how to best prevent, detect, and treat lung cancer in the future.

More than 84% of women and 90% of men newly diagnosed with lung cancer had ever smoked cigarettes, and half of patients aged 20 to 64 years newly diagnosed with lung cancer were current cigarette smokers. These findings reinforce the importance of cigarette cessation and lung cancer screening.

1 out of every 8 people diagnosed with lung cancer had never smoked cigarettes, which reiterates the importance of learning more about their risk factors for lung cancer, which could impact prevention and treatment. Were you and the research team surprised by the proportions you found or the differences between men and women? (Or, is there another interesting finding that you’d like me to highlight from the data?) 

Response: Our finding that a higher proportion of never smokers occurred among women than men is consistent with previous studies, but we were able to use cancer registry data from 7 US states to produce more generalizable results.

Despite recent reports that noted increases in the proportion of lung cancer patients who had never smoked, this study reinforces that the vast majority of people diagnosed with lung cancer are current or former smokers. We found that about nine in ten men and eight in ten women recently diagnosed with lung cancer were current or former smokers, and half of those aged 20-64 years were current smokers. This reinforces the need to strengthen and increase cigarette cessation and lung cancer screening among high-risk current and former smokers. What is a major takeaway or piece of advice that you’d give to Reuters readers who are interested in this research and future research possibilities?

Response: A higher proportion of never smokers occurred among women with lung cancer compared with men across all age groups, race/ethnicities, and most histologies. These findings highlight the importance of identifyng factors, especially for women, other than smoking for the occurrence of lung cancers among populations with high proportions of never smokers. For example, genomic research among never smokers may help identify signature mutations associated with lung cancer risk factors such as secondhand smoke exposure, occupational exposures, radon, air pollution, and genetic factors.

Finally, this report is only possible because of the hard work of state cancer registries who report these data. High quality data on smoking status at cancer diagnosis may be useful for future evaluation of how different types of cancer are associated with smoking status.


Siegel DA, Fedewa SA, Henley SJ, Pollack LA, Jemal A. Proportion of Never Smokers Among Men and Women With Lung Cancer in 7 US States. JAMA Oncol. Published online December 03, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.6362

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Last Updated on December 10, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD